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The Biden and Clinton mutinies

by Alexander Cockburn

Time bombs tossed seemingly casually in the past month by his vice president and his secretary of state disclose President Obama, in the dawn of his first term, already the target of carefully meditated onslaughts by senior members of his own cabinet. At the superficial level, Obama is presiding over an undisciplined administration; on a more realistic and sinister construction, he is facing mutiny, publicly conducted by two people who only a year ago were claiming that their qualifications to be in the Oval Office were far superior to those of the junior senator from Illinois. The great danger to Obama posed by Biden’s and Clinton’s “time bombs” (a precisely correct description if we call them political, not diplomatic, time bombs) is not international confusion and ridicule over what precisely are the US government’s policies, but a direct onslaught on his presidency by a domestic Israeli lobby that is so out of control that it renders ridiculous Obama’s puny attempt to stop settlements — or to curb Israeli aggression in any other way. Take Joe Biden. A month ago, he gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran, only to be swiftly corrected by his boss. At the time it seemed yet another somewhat comical mile marker in a lifetime of gaffes, perpetrated in the cause of self-promotion and personal political advantage. But Biden’s subsequent activities invite a darker construction. In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s Moscow visit, the air still soft with honeyed words about a new era of trust and cooperation, Biden headed for Ukraine and Georgia, harshly and publicly ridiculing Russia as an economic basket case with no future. In Tbilisi, he told the Georgian parliament that the US would continue helping Georgia “to modernize” its military and that Washington “fully supports” Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO and help Tbilisi to meet the alliance’s standards. This elicited a furious reaction from Moscow, pledging sanctions against any power rearming Georgia. Georgia could play a vital, enabling role, in the event that Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear complex. The flight path from Israel to Iran is diplomatically and geographically challenging. On the other hand, Georgia is perfectly situated as the takeoff point for any such raid. Israel has been heavily involved in supplying and training Georgia’s armed forces. President Saakashvili has boasted that his defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, and also Temur Yakobashvili, the minister responsible for negotiations over South Ossetia, lived in Israel before moving to Georgia, adding, “Both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews.” On the heels of Biden’s shameless pandering in Tbilisi, Secretary of State Clinton took herself off to Thailand for an international confab with Asian leaders and let drop to a TV chat show that “a nuclear Iran could be contained by a US ‘defense umbrella’” — actually, a nuclear defense umbrellafor Israel and for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, too. The Israel lobby hasbeen promoting the idea of a US “nuclear umbrella” for some years, withone of its leading exponents being Dennis Ross, now in charge of MiddleEastern policy on Obama’s National Security Council. In her campaign last year, Clinton flourished the notion as an exampleof the sort of policy initiative that set her apart from that novice inforeign affairs, Barack Obama. From any rational point of view, the “nuclear umbrella” is an awfulidea, redolent with all the gimcrack theology of the high Cold War era,about “first strike,” “second strike,” “stable deterrence,” “controlledescalation” and “mutual assured destruction” used to sell USescalations in nuclear arms production, from Kennedy and the lateRobert McNamara (“the Missile Gap”) to Reagan (“Star Wars”). Indeed, as one Pentagon veteran remarked to me earlier this week, “theadministration’s whole nuclear stance is turning into a cheesy rerun ofthe Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction, all based on a horribleexaggeration of one or two Iranian nuclear bombs that the Persians maybe too incompetent to build and most certainly are too incompetent todeliver.” The Biden and Clinton “foreign” policy is: 1) to recreate the same oldCold War (with a new appendage, the US versus Iran nuclearconfrontation) for the same old reasons: to pump up domestic defensespending; and 2) to continue 60 years of supporting Israeliexpansionism for the same reasons that every president from Harry toDubya (perhaps barring Ike) did so: to corner Israel lobby money andvotes. Regarding the latter, Obama did the same by grabbing theChicago-based Crown and Pritzker family money very early in hiscampaign and by making Rahm Emanuel his very first appointment (the twoare hardly unrelated). So right from the start, Obama was already an Israel-lobby fellowtraveler. The Mitchell appointment and the toothless blather aboutsettlements were simply cosmetics, bones tossed to the increasingproportion of the American electorate that’s grossed out by the ethniccleansing of the Arabs from the Holy Land. Obama does have a coherentstrategy: keep the defense money flowing and increasing, but withoutmaking so much noise as the older generation did about ancient Cold Warenemies (e.g., Russia and Cuba). The F-22 — to date, the one and onlypresidential issue on which he’s shown any toughness at all — is in nosense a departure from keeping the money flowing, since he is indeedincreasing the defense budget, in part by using the F-22 cancellationto push spending on the even worse F-35 and to hide his acquiescence toall the other pork in the Congressional defense budget. The window for any new president to impose a decisive change in foreignpolicy comes in the first three months, before opposition has time tosolidify. Obama squandered that opportunity, stocking his foreign policy teamwith tarnished players such as Ross. As the calculated indiscretions ofBiden and Clinton suggest, not to mention the arrogance of Netanyahuand his political associates, the window of opportunity has closed. Would it have been that hard to signal a change in course? Not really.Obama could have excited the world by renouncing the Bushadministration’s assertion, in the “National Defense Strategy of theUnited States” in 2002, of the right and intention of the United Statesto preemptively attack any country “at the time, place, and in themanner of our choosing.” As William Polk, the State Department’s MiddleEast adviser in the Kennedy era, wrote last year: “As long as thisremains a valid statement of American policy, the Iranian governmentwould be foolish not to seek a nuclear weapon.” But Obama, surrounded with Clinton-era veterans of NATO expansionismand, as his Accra speech indicated, hobbled with an impeccablyconventional view of how the world works, is rapidly being overwhelmedby the press of events. He’s bailed out the banks. He’s transferred warfrom Iraq to Afghanistan. The big lobbies know they have him on the run.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. Copyright 2009 Creators.Com

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